Here is our ultimate guide to buying a fireplace for your home.
While on the face of it a fireplace may seem run-of-the-mill, the fact of the matter there are a ton of options. We set them out below.
Having a fireplace in your home is fantastic. In fact, you can have fireplaces in multiple rooms in your home. While many jurisdictions have banned wood fireplaces in new homes, they can be nice in a nostalgic sort of fashion. Truth be told, gas fireplaces are far more convenient and environmentally friendly.
We have one wood-burning fireplace and one gas fireplace. For now the wood burning fireplace in our living room is great because our 5 year old loves building fires, but once that tires we’ll have wish we had a gas fireplace in our living room. Our gas fireplace is in the basement and so we don’t use it ever.
This is an epic guide, so go grab a cup of coffee and learn all about your fireplace options.
Table of Contents
- I. Fireplace Buying Guide
- A. What’s the Most Popular Type of Fireplace?
- B. Fireplace Fuel Types
- C. Fireplace Mounting Options
- D. Fireplace Design Options
- II. More Details
- III. Where to Buy Fireplaces Online
I. Fireplace Buying Guide
Several major decisions must be made early on when buying a fireplace.
Chief among these are fuel type and mounting option. These choices then dictate your fireplace design, including style, dimensions, and materials used.
In addition to the fireplace itself, you can also choose from a vast selection of mantels, chimneys, and flues.
A. What’s the Most Popular Type of Fireplace?
Here’s a chart illustrating how popular the different types are relative to one another:
The following is based on 190,244 rooms with fireplaces. This dataset is from fireplaces in all rooms (i.e. not just living rooms). Unfortunately our data didn’t include all the different types of fireplaces we’ve identified in this article; however, we included this chart nevertheless because we consider it helpful.
Table presenting exact percentages of how common the various types are:
- Corner: 5.22%
- Hanging: 1.20%
- Ribbon: 6.95%
- Standard: 77.87%
- Two-Sided: 5.74%
- Wood-Stove: 3.01%
B. Fireplace Fuel Types
Your first decision when buying a fireplace is fuel type.
The fuel type you choose dictates the best mounting option and overall design, as well as the best place to locate the fireplace.
The main options for fuel types are electric, gas, gel, ethanol, and wood.
1. Electric Fireplace
Source: Angie’s List
They create warmth by heating interior coils with electricity. Most models come with an internal fan to better distribute heat throughout your home.
Given that there is no real flame inside an electric fireplace, they employ a “fake” flame to give them a lifelike look and feel. It’s common for the flickering flame to be paired with a crackling “fake” log.
If your home gets too warm, most electric fireplace models allow you to turn off the heating element while keeping the fake flickering flame on to maintain the cozy ambiance.
Better yet, your electric fireplace can be controlled from the comfort of your chair. Most models come with a remote to increase or decrease temperature as well as to turn the fireplace on or off.
The biggest benefit of an electric fireplace is its overall cost-effectiveness. Not only are they among the most affordable options available, they’re also the cheapest to install (since they don’t require venting).
Furthermore, unlike wood and gas fireplaces, electric fireplaces don’t require the usual maintenance, such as tasks like chopping wood, cleaning the chimney, or inspecting the gas line.
Yet another benefit of buying an electric fireplace is safety. They’re hands down the safest model for homes with small children or pets.
Finally, electric fireplaces are highly customizable. In addition to a number of sub-models of the fireplace itself, the flame and fire effects can also be customized.
2. Gas Fireplace
Source: Regency Fireplace Products
Gas fireplaces are another popular alternative to traditional wood-burning fireplaces.
Like electric fireplaces, they’re a low-cost option that’s usually easy to install. Built-in options can be installed with little reconstruction to an existing built-in fireplace and chimney.
At the same time that they’re affordable up front, gas fireplaces are also highly efficient. They’re a good choice to save money on your overall heating utilities bills.
Alternatively, you can opt for a free-standing gas fireplace that utilizes a pipe. This enables you to install your fireplace in any room, not just those that already are set up to receive a fireplace.
Direct-vented models require a chimney for ventilation. This can be a pre-existing chimney (such as one previously used for a wood fireplace) or a new chimney can be constructed.
A pipe, as mentioned above, is another option that limits changes to your homes structure.
Ventless models don’t require a chimney, pipe, or other vent. These come with numerous features to promote overall safety.
Despite burning clear for the most part, they still pose the slight risk of emitting contaminants into your home.
Your final option when it comes gas fireplaces is the type of gas used. Your two options are natural gas or liquid propane.
A natural gas fireplace can utilize an existing gas line. A propane fireplace, on the other hand, requires a propane tank. Both options necessitate a line installed between fireplace and fuel source.
3. Gel Fireplace
Source: Soothing Company
Gel fireplaces are much less popular than electric or gas fireplaces but have their own benefits.
At the top of the list is their ease of installation. All a gel fireplace requires for use is a can filled with gel fuel. This means no venting, lines, pipes, or electrical wires are required.
The fact that a gel fireplace is self-contained makes them extra versatile. This model is often lightweight enough to safely mount on a wall.
Another highlight of a gel fireplace is that the flame is real. You light the gel fuel can with a lighter to create an actual burn.
On the other hand, the fuel type combined with this type of flame means that heat output is minimal. You don’t want to rely on a gel fireplace as your primary source of heat.
The gel fuel cans required to use a gel fireplace can also be expensive.
4. Ethanol Fireplace
An ethanol fireplace is very similar to a gel fireplace, except that it uses a liquid bioethanol fuel instead of a gel fuel.
Most ethanol fireplaces contain a burner that can be filled with the bioethanol fuel for easy repeated use. 2 liters is the standard size for the fuel tank.
The burner enables you to adjust the temperature of the fireplace (unlike a gel fireplace). It also allows you to easily turn the fireplace off and on.
Like gel fireplaces, an ethanol fireplace is easy to install but isn’t very efficient. You don’t want to rely on yours to heat your entire home.
Another characteristic they share with gel fireplaces is their versatility. Their lightweight makes them an excellent choice for a wall-mounted fireplace or a tabletop fireplace.
Ethanol fireplaces are quickly growing in popularity thanks to the wide variety of designs available.
5. Wood-Burning Fireplace
Source: Majestic Products
Good old wood-burning fireplaces are the most traditional type of fireplace.
In fact, some form of a wood-burning fireplace is what humans have been using to stay warm for years.
Chances are the image of a wood-burning fireplace is what pops into your head when you think about a fireplace to begin with.
As the name implies, a wood-burning fireplace burns wood to create heat. Though a crackling or roaring fire is the result, this heat source comes with a lot of downsides.
The biggest downside to wood-burning fireplaces is cost and maintenance. They’re expensive to install, buying wood adds up, and professional cleaning is required on a regular basis.
Yet for all the downsides, many people love wood-burning fireplaces. They create a cozy, rustic atmosphere in any space and a lot of people like the smoky scent.
Wood-burning fireplaces come in several styles. Though not strictly a fireplace, wood burning stoves are a great alternative to those that don’t have a space for a fireplace.
Wood-burning stoves can be used nearly anywhere in a home, with much the same effect as a fireplace. They do require a pipe (instead of a chimney) for venting out smoke though.
C. Fireplace Mounting Options
After you select the best fuel type for your needs and preferences, it’s time to pick your favorite mounting option.
Note that not all mounting options work with all fuel types. For instance, a wood-burning fireplace is much too large for mounting on the wall.
The main mounting options are traditional, free-standing, wall-mounted, built-in, tabletop, hanging and two-sided.
1. Traditional Open-Hearth Fireplace
Source: Archi Expo
A traditional fireplace is only used with a wood-burning fireplace.
Also known as an open hearth fireplace, these are usually made out of stone or brick and are built into your home’s wall. They utilize a chimney and flue for ventilation.
A traditional fireplace is the most expensive mounting option. If you don’t already have one installed in your home, it’s going to take a lot of construction to properly build one.
For this reason, most people pass on a traditional open hearth fireplace unless their home was originally constructed with one.
2. Free-Standing Fireplace
A free-standing fireplace is a great alternative to a traditional open-hearth fireplace.
They usually include a mantel and are designed to mimic the looks of a traditional built-in fireplace.
Depending on the type of fuel used, your free-standing fireplace can be completely free-standing or attached to the wall or ceiling (for ventilation).
Electric free-standing models that don’t require ventilation can actually be moved around while redecorating. Gas free-standing fireplaces that require ventilation or a gas line should probably stay in the same place.
Free-standing fireplaces come in numerous designs, ranging from contemporary to modern to rustic. They also come in all different shapes and sizes.
Another option for a free-standing fireplace is furniture that contains a built-in fireplace. One common option is an entertainment center.
The entertainment center has a built-in fireplace on the bottom (almost always electric). Your TV can then sit on the mantel (without worry of damage).
These built-in furniture fireplaces are a great option for those living in small homes or apartments.
3. Wall-Mounted Fireplace
Source: Archi Expo
A wall-mounted fireplace is another common option for those with small homes or apartments.
The fireplace style is also growing in popularity for use in outdoor spaces. Some self-contained wall-mounted fireplaces can even be moved from room to room as needed.
There are two subtypes of wall-mounted fireplaces: those that need to be connected to a chimney and those that don’t. The type you get depends on what type of fuel you use.
Wall-mounted fireplaces come in dozens of shapes, styles, and sizes. One popular style these days is the long type which is called a ribbon fireplace. You can buy one with a mantel or without a mantel.
Many people use a wall-mounted fireplace as the focal point of their room. It’s a great centerpiece if you don’t have a television.
4. Built-In Fireplace Insert
Source: DIY Network
A fireplace insert utilizes an already built-in traditional fireplace.
If your home has an open-hearth wood-burning fireplace, you can buy an electric, gas, gel, or ethanol insert that simply slides into the current opening.
This is an excellent way to convert a high-maintenance wood-burning fireplace into a lower-maintenance, more energy-efficient fireplace that uses an alternative fuel type.
The nice thing about fireplace inserts is that they utilize your current space. You can build off these traditional aesthetics or select a model with a more modern style.
5. Tabletop Fireplace
Source: The Sharper Image
Tabletop fireplaces are ultra-lightweight portable fireplaces that can be easily moved from room to room.
Their most common use is to heat outdoor spaces. Set yours on a tabletop to keep your guests warm and provide an eye-catching focal point for the evening.
Tabletop fireplaces look great on a patio deck by the pool.
I’m not wild about the hanging style because it has that futuristic vibe. Here’s an example:
This is a cool type because two rooms can enjoy it at the same time. Check it out:
D. Fireplace Design Options
Once you select a fuel type and mounting option, it’s time to think about the design of the fireplace itself.
Fireplaces come in all shapes and sizes. They are constructed from a wide range of materials, chosen both for looks and functionality. And then there are additional design features like your fireplace mantel and the chimney/flue (if required).
All of these design elements combine together to give your fireplace its overall aesthetic appeal, whether that’s rustic, modern, or something in between.
The style of fireplace you choose largely dictates its dimensions as well as the materials used.
The options for fireplace styles are nearly endless. As mentioned above, they span the range from traditional to modern designs.
Remember that the fuel type and mounting option you choose largely dictates the overall style of your fireplace.
Wood-burning fireplaces with chimneys are often much larger and more imposing than chicer electric or gas fireplaces.
1. Traditional Fireplace Style
Think of the type of fireplace you’d expect in a log cabin: that’s a traditional fireplace.
Usually constructed from stones or bricks, these fireplaces bring nature into the home, creating a rustic, cozy atmosphere.
Most traditional fireplaces are the wood-burning variety. However, a wood-burning fireplace can easily be outfitted with an electric or gas fireplace insert if desired.
2. Contemporary Fireplace Style
A contemporary fireplace is defined by sharp, well-defined lines and universal appeal.
Though they look great in just about any home, they’re best suited for homes with equally chic, stylish décor.
Most fireplaces with contemporary designs utilize traditional materials such as brick or stones, yet do so in an elegant fashion.
3. Modern Fireplace Style
The modern style of fireplaces takes the contemporary style up another notch.
These fireplaces generally ditch traditional stone and brick materials altogether in favor of more modern materials like marble and glass.
Modern fireplaces are notable for their clean lines and futuristic appeal. Many look more like art pieces than a home heating solution.
The shape and size of your fireplace depends on three main factors: the fuel type, the mounting option, and the location where you want it.
Fireplaces can range from a small two feet by two feet (and smaller!) up to massive creations that take up an entire room’s walls with chimneys spanning two stories.
Electric and gas fireplaces are generally on the smaller side of things while wood-burning fireplaces (and fireplace inserts) are on the large end.
Perhaps the most distinctive design element of the fireplace you buy is the material that covers the outside of it.
What’s the most common fireplace material?
Here’s a chart setting out what are the most popular fireplace exterior materials. It’s based on analysis of 172,176 rooms with fireplaces. Stone is clearly the most popular.
Here’s the data specifically for fireplaces in all rooms:
- Brick: 9.58%
- Concrete: 2.91%
- Metal: 4.65%
- Plaster: 7.17%
- Stone: 50.04%
- Tile: 15.35%
- Wood: 10.30%
Examples of the most common:
1. Ledgestone Fireplace
Source: North Star Stone
Ledgestone fireplaces utilize small strips of material for a contemporary design.
2. Fieldstone Fireplace
Source: Standout Fireplace Designs
Fieldstones are natural looking stones that, as their name implies, look like they were found in a field. They make for a homey traditional-style fireplace. See more stone fireplaces here.
3. Brick with Wood Fireplace
Exposed brick gives your fireplace a timeless, traditional style. Combine with wood millwork and a wood mantel for an updated, contemporary design.
4. Concrete Fireplace
Source: Trueform Concrete
A concrete fireplace gives any home an edgy, industrial atmosphere. They look great paired with contemporary furnishings as well as in loft apartments with wood floors, lofted ceilings, and lots of natural light.
5. Metal Fireplace
Metal fireplaces provide either an old-world appeal or a new-school style, depending on specific material and design.
6. Marble Fireplace
The material of choice for modern fireplaces, marble creates an upscale look that’s more than dramatic.
7. Plaster Fireplace
Plaster is a cozy option for fireplace material that almost makes your fireplace look like it’s just coming out of the drywall.
This type of fireplace material is common in the American Southwest.
The mantel, or mantelpiece, is the decorative framework often found around a fireplace.
Both built-in and stand-alone (as well as wall-mounted) fireplaces often utilize mantels, though a fireplace doesn’t necessarily need one.
In addition to providing that classic fireplace look, a fireplace mantel is also functional. It can serve as a shelf for decorations and other items.
Remember the following tips when buying a mantel for a fireplace:
- Follow National Fire Code standards for a mantel on a wood-burning fireplace.
- Minimum 6-inch clearing between mantel and firebox.
- An additional inch of space for every 1/8 mantel protrudes.
- Select a mantel based on the dimensions and style of your fireplace for the best match.
- Consider heart size (if applicable), room size, and overall décor for a balanced looking mantel.
- Look for a mantel that works well with the room size, décor, and your fireplace style.
- Simple wood mantels are the cheapest option. Elegant wood mantels with carvings are the mid-range option. Stone is the high-end option.
- MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, looks like wood but is a non-combustible mantel option.
Fireplace Chimney and Flue
Source: Fine Art America
Wood-burning fireplaces are the only type of fireplaces that require a traditional chimney and flue.
Some gas fireplaces also require venting, but this is generally done through a pipe, rather than an actual chimney (unless you’re using a gas fireplace insert).
The most common types of chimneys for wood-burning fireplaces include:
1. Masonry Chimney
Chimney constructed from brick or stone to match fireplace surround. Often paired with a tile-lined flue.
2. Reinforced Concrete Chimney
Only seen on older homes. These chimneys are prone to cracking, making the design all but obsolete on new construction.
3. Metal-Lined Flue
Similar to the ventilation pipe on a gas fireplace, a metal-lined flue is usually a double-walled (sometimes triple-walled) metal pipe to vent out smoke.
II. More Details
Here are some other important factors to consider when buying a fireplace.
A. Heat Required
A big part of choosing what type of fireplace fuel type to choose, and how big of a fireplace you need, is to consider your heating needs.
A larger room or home needs a fireplace that produces more heat. On the other hand, an overlarge fireplace in a small room produces too much heat.
You should also consider other heating sources. Will your new fireplace be your sole source of heat? Or will it combine with other heating sources?
Note that while wood-burning fireplaces do produce copious amounts of heat, much of this escapes through the chimney because heat rises.
Gas, gel, ethanol, and even electric fireplaces are actually more efficient. Though less heat overall is produced, much more of it is directed into the room.
B. Room and Location
Which room will your new fireplace be located in? Where will your fireplace be located within that room?
The place you want your fireplace located dictates what type of fireplace to buy. Wood-burning fireplaces are best installed near exterior walls. Other fuel types can be used on interior walls.
Want a fireplace that you can move around as you decorate (and even take with you when you move)? Then a free-standing fireplace over a built-in insert is a smart choice.
The living room is one of the most common rooms for a fireplace. However, smaller electric and gas models make them a good option for dining rooms, master bedrooms, offices, and even outdoors as well.
C. Fireplace Installation
Fireplace installation ranges from simply plopping down a free-standing electric fireplace to spending weeks on remodeling your home for a brand-new wood-burning fireplace.
In the middle of the installation spectrum is a gas fireplace. These must be connected to a gas line. If you have one, the process is simple. Hiring a professional to install a gas line is more expensive and time-consuming.
Building and installing a wood-burning fireplace almost always takes a professional. Some models of gas fireplaces can be installed on your own. Many electric fireplaces also require minimal installation and can be done alone.
D. Fire Safety
All fireplaces, but especially wood-burning fireplaces, must be used with utmost caution. Follow proper fire safety guidelines to protect the safety of yourself, your family, and your home.
Fire safety starts with the type of fireplace you buy. Electric fireplaces are hands down the safest option for families with children or pets. Gas, gel, and ethanol are also safer for children and pets.
Wood-burning fireplaces, on the other hand, can be very dangerous if used improperly. Make sure to buy a quality fireplace screen and gate, whether or not you have children or pets.
Wood-burning fireplaces must be cleaned out regularly. In addition to regular cleaning, you should have a professional clean and inspect your chimney on an annual basis.
Those installing a gas fireplace should hire a professional to connect it to their gas line, even though doing so can seem like an easy DIY task.
Your gas fireplace should also be outfitted with an oxygen-depletion sensor (also known as a safety pilot). The device automatically shuts the gas off if too much carbon monoxide builds up.
Along these same lines, you should install at least one carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your home if using a gas fireplace.
E. Cost and Budget
The cost of your fireplace depends on many factors.
Depending on the type of fireplace you select, you can expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars all the way up to $10,000 or more.
We’ve found that most electric, gas, gel, and ethanol fireplaces are somewhere in the range of $500 to $2,500. Free-standing and wall-mounted units are generally more affordable than built-in inserts.
The most expensive option is a wood-burning fireplace, especially one constructed from scratch. The remodeling, construction, and installation costs of a new wood-burning fireplace can easily add up to more than $10,000, for even a simple model.
It’s also important to consider the cost of fireplace installation for electric, gas, gel, and ethanol models. Certain models can be installed by yourself, but you need a professional to install others, adding more money onto your bill.
If you buy a wood-burning fireplace that requires an annual professional inspection, it’s important to factor those costs into your total. They generally run around $100 to $250 per year.
Gas fireplaces also require an annual professional inspection. These cost around $100 to $150 per year.
III. Where to Buy Fireplaces Online
Now that you know the details of all the fireplace options available, here’s our selection of the best online merchants to buy a fireplace and fireplace accessories from:
Home Stratosphere is an award-winning home and garden online publication that’s a result of our talented researchers and writers who work directly with hundreds of professional interior designers, furniture designers, landscape designers and architects from around the world to create helpful, informative, entertaining and inspiring articles and design galleries.